I ate pizza three times in Mexico.
Yes, there was guacamole and a ton of tostada’s (my new favorite), but some of the best bites I had were of the Italian-variety. Now, this was not because I do not like Mexican food. In fact, I very much like-a the spice of my fellow amigos south of the border. I regularly stock those killer sweet potato tortilla chips and that yogurt-based, “guilt-free” guacamole from Trader Joe’s in my fridge. (And yes, I’m aware that both of those items ain’t the “real” thing.) But let’s be honest: You gotta mix it up.
The first pizza I had in Mexico was at a place called Pizza Franca in the D.F. I had already eaten some sort of Mexican mush for lunch, plus I had 10 more days (aka 30 more opportunities) to eat pollo or camerones rolled up with queso and served with pico de gayo. So when I happened upon this hip looking spot in cool Colonia Roma, I moseyed in, took a seat at the bar and ordered the speciality of the house—the Franca. It was topped with Serrano ham, black olives, arugula and “jitomate” (aka tomato), which was smashed up and gooey, jam-style. Every bite, down to the last (cause, yes, I finished the whole thing), was insanely delicious.
A few days later, in the town of Sayulita just north of Puerto Vallarta where my sister and I retreated for a few days of sun, sea, surf, and tequlia, we took a break from the salsa and chips at a spot called La Rustica. What the restaurant lacked in walls—a very Sayulita-like design concept that matches its uneven cobblestone streets—it made up for in taste, via its brick oven mini pies. We got two and shared. (That is, until we quickly realized we each liked one more than the other.) This time, I wanted a bit of local flava-flav, so I went for La Mexicana, with chorizo, jalapeno, sautéed onions, mozzerella, creme and fresh cilantro.
My sister ordered La Princesa, which was topped with pesto, olives, spinach, fresh and sun-dried tomatoes, mozzerella, goat cheese, and sautéed onions topped with balsamic glaze and fresh basil. A decadent bite, indeed.
Finally, back in Puerto Vallarta, the three amigos—that’d be me, my sister and my brother, who joined us for the last leg of the trip—returned to a restaurant on the Malecon that we went to when we were kids: Dolce Vita. The margarita pizza we ordered here wasn’t especially exotic, and it’s possible we may have over-estimated the quality of the food in general—that, or our palettes have matured tremendously—but still, it brought us back to our childhood and kept our tummies free of Turista.
Speaking of Turista, aka the Mexican diarrhea disease that often plagues tourists (aka gringos) when traveling in the country, all this pizza consumption got me thinking about eating like a visitor while abroad, and how easy it is to naively dine on nothing but tacos in Mexico, pasta in Italy or steak frites in France.
Sure, it makes sense to seek out the restaurant in Stockholm renown for its meatballs with lingonberries as its unique to Swedish culture. Or to reserve a table at La Luna in Puerto Vallarta, where the incredible Mexican chef Miriam Flores recreates traditional entrees like “Chiles en Nogada” — a poblano pepper stuffed with braised pork, fruits and topped with an almond creme sauce. But Americans don’t eat hamburgers and fried chicken everyday. (At least, I hope we don’t.) To wit, what’s foreign and intriguing to us in other countries could very well be boring and routine to locals, and vice versa. At the end of the day—or beginning if we’re talking breakfast—the point is to enrich our taste buds and fill our bellies with some distinguishable, yet delicious food no matter where we are and who’s cooking. To consume just one flavor profile for a week, let alone a lifetime, would be a disservice to the many cuisines out there.
On my last two trips to the City of Light, my most memorable meals were a street-side kosher falafel from L’As du Fallafel and ceviche from the hip and happening Le Mary Celeste in the Marais, where New York expat Adam Tsou has opened not one, but three establishments that offer the French eats beyond escargot and brie.
While I admit I chuckled to myself when dining on Chinese with my cousins in Milan, that’s only because in New York, I pretty much live smack damn in the middle of a global grub bazaar, from Le Baratin (French), Jinya (Japanese) and Oaxaca (Mexican) to my left, to Gottino (Italian), Barraca (Spanish) and A Salt & Battery (British) to my right. I’m accustomed to regularly choosing from a pu-pu platter of cuisines when dining out. After all, with the exception of the Bagel, the Slice, the Knish and maybe the Dirty Water Dog, New York doesn’t really have its own delicacy. (I suspect devout foodies may find this debatable. Bring it.) To me, what NYC does best is the rest of the world’s food. So when I go out into the rest of the world, I expect to, well, taste the rainbow. Sure, it’d be easy to just eat the reds from a bag of Skittles, cause, dang they’re good! But variety is the spice of life. So eat the yellow in Paris, and the green in Milan. Hell, maybe even mix ’em all together into one big colorful mess of a mouthful, like, say that Mexicana pizza I had in Sayulita. Bueno, bellisima, who cares? Just delicious.